Strong Hearing, Strong Start Raising awareness the key to improving Indigenous ear health

Page last updated: 16 June 2015

Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon Kelvin Kong checking a young boy’s ears.

Dr Kelvin Kong is an ear, nose and throat specialist who has spent years visiting and working in Indigenous communities and is continually disturbed by what he calls the ‘travesty of ear disease’ in communities.

Dr Kong is one of the few Indigenous surgeons in the country, and now an ambassador for the Care for Kids’ Ears Campaign, part of the Australian Government’s commitment to improving eye and ear health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for better education and employment outcomes.

“Ear disease is a chronic process that occurs over the most important period of a child’s upbringing that is during their learning, growth and development. If we don’t get onto it and we don’t be persistent with it, kids are going to miss out on their education. If they miss out on their education it changes their whole life outcomes,” says Dr. Kong.

Dr Kong also mentors Indigenous medical students and is a highly valued member of numerous boards and committees within the Indigenous health sphere. He believes that a significant aspect of the ear health ‘travesty’ exists in how easily ear problems can be identified and treated, and yet far too many Indigenous children are continuing to have their hearing and health impaired through lack of awareness.

“I think as health professionals it is our duty of care to ensure that ear health is a major focus. The simple fact is that it’s very easy to look at someone’s ears, and very easy to get a hearing test done, and very easy — in any points of contact that we have with someone — to make sure the ears and hearing is checked. If we make sure that every health professional advocates for that, then it becomes second nature. We need to get that type of mentality started.”

As well as providing targeted ear health information for teachers and parents, the Care for Kids’ Ears resources include materials designed specifically for health professionals and organisations, including a consultation tool and guidelines on Otitis Media, and ear health information to share with parents and carers.

“These resources allow the power of information to be placed in the hands of the carers and parents, not only the health professionals, which is vitally important,” says Dr Kong.

“In terms of communicating with community, it comes down to common sense. That is, we need to translate information directed to the community and directed to the health professionals at the level that they need. Once that information is disseminated in the appropriate manner, it sits within the power-brokers of the community, the parents. When that happens, things get pushed forward, and that is such a powerful message and where the Care for Kids Ears’ resources become extremely useful in giving that power back to the community.”

The Care for Kids’ Ears resources for Parents and Carers, Early Childhood & Community Groups, Teachers and Health Professionals can be downloaded or ordered from the Care for Kids’ Ears website.